Professor Michael B. Gerrard and Attorney J. Cullen Howe Discuss New York’s Green Building Progress

Editors of The Law of Green Buildings: Regulatory and Legal Issues Explain How Local Laws and National LEED Standards Are Making the City More Sustainable.
New York, October 31, 2013—New York City is forging a more sustainable future for America’s metropolises, said Professor Michael B. Gerrard and J. Cullen Howe, legislative counsel on environmental issues for the New York City Council, in an Oct. 21 talk at Columbia Law School.
Gerrard, the Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice, explained that buildings are a key front in the fight against climate change.
“Nationwide, a large portion of energy use goes to buildings,” said Gerrard. “They account for 73 percent of total U.S. electricity consumption and 38 percent of carbon dioxide emissions.”
In consultation with the scientific community, industry groups developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, voluntary and consensus-based national benchmarks for developing high-performance buildings. LEED is a system in which buildings earn points for meeting criteria such as sustainable sites, water efficiency, and on-site renewable energy. The standards, which include different ratings systems for various structures and regional needs, are updated every few years to account for progress and evolving scientific knowledge.
Howe, an expert on New York City’s building codes and environmental regulations, said that while some have criticized the LEED standards for not exclusively focusing on energy efficiency and for involving voluntary industry cooperation, they have proved useful for tackling sustainability issues in New York and nationally.
“There’s a lot of market demand for green buildings,” Howe said. “The LEED standards help with buy-in from developers and owners.”
Howe described the series of increasingly ambitious regulations New York City has instituted over the last decade to increase energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While climate change concerns have long contributed to New York’s environmental agenda, Howe said, last year’s Hurricane Sandy increased the sense of urgency surrounding the issues and underlined the need for climate adaptation.
“New York City is at the forefront of addressing sustainability issues,” Howe said. “There are difficulties being first. There’s no roadmap, and code changes can be slow to implement and expensive, but when New York adopts something, it inspires other cities.”
Gerrard and Howe, longtime colleagues, are editors of the 2010 book The Law of Green Buildings: Regulatory and Legal Issues. Their talk was sponsored by Columbia Law School’s Real Estate Law Society.